Monday, March 27, 2017

Sophie Calle, Paul Auster, & Enrique Vila-Matas (for ARTBOOK @ Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles)



Sophie Calle, Paul Auster, Enrique Vila-Matas 

In such a fashion, voyeurism is very much part of the arts.  That includes both the visual and literary arts.   Eros is likewise an excellent companion to the arts.   The French artist, Sophie Calle, I feel is an entranceway to the world that is forbidden, and therefore we allow her as a guide to the underworld.   She is renowned for her performance/book artwork such as obtaining a job in a Venice hotel to observe the anonymous occupants and making a record of the experience.  As well as locating an address book on the street, and looking up every person in the book to learn more about the owner of the notebook.    Even enticingly, Calle through her mother, hired a private detective to monitor herself, not knowing the identity of the detective.   There is something that is wonderfully off-putting of such an art - especially when the artist commits herself to these series of performances and observations.  What’s equally sexy/disturbing is when other artists contribute to her work or comment on Calle through their art. In this case, the novel “Leviathan” by Paul Auster and “Because She Never Asked ” by Enrique Vila-Matas.  I feel both authors are sucked into this world that’s foundation is shaky at its best.  Which in turn, makes their “novels” so superb.



Calle’s art book, “Double Game, ” is more than a reflection on Paul Auster’s 1992 novel. It’s the springboard for Calle to explore the nature of what is real, not real, fiction and non-fiction, and how characters out of a novel can jump out of its pages.  There is the forbidden aspect of breaking that wall between reader/character and real life.  The thing about voyeurism is that it’s not really about the ‘real’ but how we perceive the ‘real. ' Calle and Auster play with the medium of fiction and conceptual art, that takes one on a very slippery path to the difference of one’s privacy, and another’s exploitation.  



The character, Maria Turner, in “Leviathan” is based on Sophie Calle, in that she’s a photographer who follows strangers for the purpose of photographing them for her art. In 2007, Calle came out with “Double Game. ” Her art/narrative book that focuses on the Auster character “Maria.” Calle plays up to the Maria character, even though it is inspired by her, into the world where the artist base her work on the fictional character that is based on….   “Double Game” is similar to going into a room full of mirrors, and consistently see endless images of oneself.   This is what all three artists/writers have in common.  The ability to be in their story, and then, in essence, floats over the narration and looks at themselves.  That, to me is the art of these two.  To take history, storytelling, and the ability to step into the typhoon that is art and mixing it up, and being able to express that experience with the skills of their artistry.  



The one flaw in the Auster/Calle world is the nature of coincidence.   It happens in life, but when you see it written down on paper, it becomes contrived.  It’s like having a puzzle, and you're missing key parts, so to make up for it, you force the ill-fitting part against another.   It can work, but it’s often too jarring, and brings attention to the weakness of the narration from point A to B.   Auster used Calle as a style of fiction, and Calle used Auster as a form of fiction - and then there’s Enrique Vila-Matas.



Of the three, I find Vila-Matas the most interesting.  His works are truly a combination of narrative fiction, literary theory, and art history rolled into one package.  Auster had approached this within his fiction, and Calle expressed this in her conceptual artwork, but Vila-Matas makes it seem effortless.   The one book of Vila-Matas that ties into the Sophie Calle presence is “Because She Never Asked. ”



The novella starts off about a fan of Calle who becomes a detective in the same light as her hero.  Which in turn, by the second chapter, is a story requested by Calle to Vila-Matas.   She wants Vila-Matas to write a story, and Calle will do anything in that story, except murder.  Now, the interesting thing, like with Auster, is having someone put one into a narrative of some sort.  The whole passive act is to follow along, and see what will happen. In a sense, it isn't precisely a work of fate, but the actual work of two authors.  There’s a sexual tinge in that one plays specific roles in the narrative.  As a writer, I like to base my little stories on real incidents and people as well.  What I do, is basically, take a real life, and altering that individual into my fashion.   In that sense, it’s a sex game where one plays roles to turn each other on.   Here, Vila-Matas is an inconsistent anticipation of hearing a response from Calle, through the medium of e-mail.   At this point, Vila-Matas, in the narrative, is not sure if the emails being sent back and forth will be part of an art exhibition (which is possible in the world of Calle) or an actual story being played out.   And at this point, the author is wondering if he’s being played “on.”   



The role of an artist/writer is interesting in itself in this presentation of them being a character in their story.  Therefore they can change their narrative to suit their art.   The thing is, they play with the reader’s imagination to a great extent, with the possibility that what they are writing is either 100% true, partially true, or entirely made-up.    Calle’s work is more fact-based in that she has information on-hand, and acts on it, with respect to her documentation.  Still, there is always a doubt in one’s mind if everything that is being presented to them is the actual truth of the situation.  Vila-Matas notices that he wants to live a written life, instead of being a writer.  That’s the conflict between being an artist who observes and one who lives out their life.  To participate in an action is very much part of being an author/artist - but to embrace the life as one’s lives, is an adventure that is not necessary literary or artistic.  In the hands (and minds) of these three, we are experiencing the duality of such a life. 




Paul Auster’s “Leviathan, ” Enrique Vila-Mata’s “Because She Never Asked, ” and Sophie Calle’s “Double Game” is an exploration of friendship, a touch of eros, collaboration, the fragile quality and quantity of truth.  Literary/art games have never been so much fun. 
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